The Hybrid Life – Gary Beck

IMG_6093Sometime in the golden years of the Motown era, a young Gary Beck is listening to The Big 8 CKLW AM wafting across Lake Erie from Windsor, Ontario Canada to his hometown of Toledo, Ohio. CKLW was about as good as it could get for radio listening and Gary reminisces about the great songs that The Big 8 made popular to the world. His smile as he recollects those iconic tunes has a telling glint to it that speaks to a lifetime of enjoying life and making the most of the opportunities that have made up the soundtrack of his life.

Toledo gave Gary some solid footings from which to build upon. It was there that he enjoyed his time as a student, discovering and developing his talent as a writer, participating as a performer and finding his future career and passion as a floriculturist. There was no question in Gary’s mind that horticulture and in particular flowers were what he wanted to study. His parents were supportive and invited him to choose a university to attend. Desiring to move beyond Ohio Gary chose a few institutions but ultimately bowed to his mother’s wish that he stay somewhat close to home and attended Michigan State University. In what had become and remains typical fashion, Gary excelled in his studies to achieve a high level of respect from his slideshowphoto-Greenhouse-ProductionAPJ16-13peers and professors at MSU. With the ability to analyze detail and data and the passion to create and perfect, Gary walked through open door after open door at MSU and received a Masters Degree while working in the research greenhouses, a position created for him. All was well but both Gary’s own desire to find his life amongst the flora of the world and Mother Nature had other ideas. East Lansing, Michigan, the home of MSU is in a unique geographic position, nestled in the middle of the Great Lakes and therefore the recipient of just about every snow storm possible, every winter. Growing up in Toledo meant that Gary was used to moderate winters; the effect of Lake Erie pushing the storms north and south. East Lansing’s definition of a moderate winter made Gary feel more like he had chosen a northern Canada school in the arctic tundra! Having spent much of his time in the warm MSU greenhouses helped to remind Gary of his heart’s desire that California should be his home. Moments after receiving his Masters and with his mother’s blessing at last, Gary and a group of friends stepped off of their secure Northeastern USA foundations and made for the coast.

In the greenhouses, Gary had practised the art of plant hybridization, the process of creating new varieties from already established plants. While learning and perfecting the craft, either purposefully or perhaps by osmosis, Gary was also becoming a hybrid of himself. Now in California, Gary was presented with the burgeoning arts culture of San Francisco while in search of greenhouses for work. Instead of moving directly to the central valley and the home of the seed companies who could best utilize his skills, Gary took time to absorb the art and environment of Haight-Ashbury scene and Buena Vista Park concerts adding this to his character. It was therefore a difficult choice to accept a job offer forwarded by one of his MSU professors that involved shifting inland to the central valley. Mother Nature, again seeming to

enjoy a little fun at Gary’s expense, offered up a gorgeous, sunny, clear and warm day for Gary to travel to his new potential workspace, which he immediately adored. Sadly, that day was an anomaly for the area but Gary, always looking for the silver lining (is there a silver lining in the central valley fog?) threw himself into the new position and soon found a name for himself, and also a large number of African Violet hybrids, in the job. Gary became a fixture in the African Violet community, a member of the African Violet Society of America and regular contributor to their magazine as well as judge and participant at shows. Never one to do anything halfway, Gary excelled in the greenhouse much like his well pampered violets, but a gruelling schedule of hours and a smaller than hoped for paycheck found him back in San Francisco and the next part of his personal composition.

From this point Gary began to hit his stride as a connoisseur of good food, wine, theatre and living, incorporating all of the above in his persona. He worked as a waiter, starting out a complete beginner and finding his way to being one of the most well known wine buyers in the region. Always appreciating the opportunity before him, Gary seized each experience with gusto and in so doing provided for himself a wide open road to travel upon. And travel he did

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Puerto Vallarta 1979 – Photo courtesy of HistoricImages

to Puerto Vallarta with his then roommate who prophetically stated to him on arrival in 1979 at the Molina de Agua, “You’re gonna love this place.” Years of visiting his second home followed and Gary, in his regular fashion found himself collecting and sharing information so that others could share his enjoyment. Gary founded an online group, began reviewing restaurants and theatre and in so doing ensconced himself in the Puerto Vallarta culture. Now living in Mexico full time, it is hard to have an extended conversation with Gary on the street in the Romantic Zone without the pleasant interruptions of friends and IMG_6088acquaintances who see him. Gary’s broad smile and welcome are shared with each who stop by and it is clear that Gary has, as deliberately as creating a new and more elegant violet, decided that his life will be one of constant enjoyment and regular improvement.

As we draw our meeting to a close, I am struck by the idea that during our time together, Gary has been carefully and kindly applying his mastery of hybridization to Teri and I. We part ways now with a new friend who has graciously opened IMG_6095the door to his network and placed us therein for everyone’s betterment. What a wonderful way to share and what a wonderful life he is living. Thank you Gary, for adding to our lives and those that you enhance each day.

 

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PS – Special thanks to the good folks at Salud Super Foods who graciously waited on us and provided a fantastic breakfast for us while we talked with Gary.

 

 

 

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Unstoppable – Guadalupe del Carmen Dipp

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow once penned the words:

Be still, sad heart! and cease repining;
Behind the clouds is the sun still shining;
Thy fate is the common fate of all,
Into each life some rain must fall,
Some days must be dark and dreary.

Guadalupe del Carmen Dipp (Lupe) has certainly known her own dark and dreary days but, like Longfellow states, she has always been and ever remains keenly aware that the sun shines just beyond the clouds. This perspective has carried her through a life bereft with tragedy that is undetectable in her personality and in her bright and contented demeanour. Simply said, Lupe has known sorrow and in it she has risen above it at every turn.

17308806_10155006596681380_3344733210560203619_nSitting at the table in the offices of Los Arroyos Verdes, the first order of business for Lupe is to offer us some Jamaica water and take a moment to share her opinion about a Facebook group that asked her to take down her offer for others to come visit and share the delicious agua fresca because she, “…only wants to rent her properties.” Lupe laughs as she recalls the supposed controversy and the ridiculous thought. As one looks around the environment and the stunning grounds of her home and community of rentals, it is easy to see the mistake the administrator made in assuming that Lupe would be hungry for renters. The truth however, is that she simply wants to share this beautiful place with people and given her life experience to date, the day to day business of Los Arroyos Verdes is more a sharing of her energy and life perspective than a rental property. Yes, you are welcome to come and share a glass of water and stroll the grounds simply to enjoy. Yes, you can also rent and live in this gorgeous garden home. Yes, Lupe is happy for you to do either or both and you would be wise to stop by. What she has created here is an oasis of peace and contentment that enhances the beauty and serenity of the Bay of Banderas; no easy task.

16509000_10154897894021380_8623711219952767767_nThat she has created this place and lives here herself is a culmination of a lifetime of learning not only design and business, but more importantly patience, satisfaction and joy; all of which flows on the warm afternoon breeze through the palms, cacti and flowers of the gardens. The lessons have not been easy despite the broad smile and cheerful attitude Lupe carries with her continually. She has lost family, children and heroes to tragedy. She has known the devastation of crushed dreams both personally and corporately. Growing up her brother was her rock and mentor teaching her to ride horses and to sail, her most beloved pastime to this day. But at the age of 26 she lost him and her young son to a plane crash. Her response was to assume leadership of her brother’s company and ensure its continued success in his memory. Not long after she herself would be severely injured in a horse riding accident that plagues her physically to this day with repeated surgeries and pain. Her response to that injury was to set her face toward the future, learn to walk again and choose to live life to the full. She has  since become a Cordon Bleu chef, studied art in Florence, Italy and become an architect. She has raised children and hotel complexes simultaneously and knows the height of what the general populous would call success. She has also known the personal havoc of seeing a project disappear before her eyes due to the sudden death of the backer putting her for all intensive purposes on the street. As always, her response to adversity has been to do what was needed to survive, rebuild and enjoy life while taking from each triumph and tribulation the lessons therein to increase her appreciation for the blessing of life she has been given.

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Unstoppable. Listening to Lupe’s story over the years this is the word that comes to mind. Despite her decision at 55 to sell off all the companies and projects she had accumulated and made successful to come to her beloved Bucerias and build Los Arroyos Verdes to live in and share, she has not actually stopped and likely will never. Currently building 22 luxury homes in  Los Torotes, Baja California, Mexico she is hardly retired. Pursuing her passion of sailing, including recently leading the Bay of Banderas Regatta as President, she keeps busy living life to the full and sharing with those she comes in contact with hopes to do the same. As we talk she shares another internet story she finds amusing. Apparently, she shared a picture to her Facebook timeline of a beautiful marina that had been posted

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Lupe on her boat, Nueva Luna doing what she loves – winning the race 🙂

in a sailing forum because she wanted others to see its beauty. The owner of the picture responded angrily, calling Lupe a thief and even insinuating racial slurs to her. Lupe chuckles as she tells how she removed the picture and with a smile deleted the individual from her Facebook and her life. Lupe explains that she has learned to be happy with herself and not to allow others to negatively affect her outlook on life. She says that after all she has experienced and 5 marriages she has learned to be content with herself and who she is, taking from what some would say is a negative history of failed relationships and learning from each one more and more about how to be free, how to to be happy and how to love life for what it is each day. Never choosing to wallow in pity, she has built a momentum in her life that now drives her through even the toughest of tempests and heaviest of life’s downpours, never forgetting and always anticipating the sun’s return. Perhaps Longfellow, upon meeting Lupe might have added a few lines to his iconic poem:

“But in each life therein lies the choice,

To allow the dreary day to silence,

Or in it to find one’s voice.”

Lupe invites you to stop by Los Arroyos Verdes to share water and solace in her beautiful home. She has 40 casas and casitas available for rent and is looking for long term tenants to enrich her garden. Stop by. Stroll the grounds. Enjoy a meal at her fantastic restaurant by the pool. See what an unstoppable worldview can create in face of the fate.

Love + Theatre + Love = Ken and Karrie Sebryk

“Movies will make you famous; Television will make you rich; But theatre will make you good.”
― Terrence Mann

If you could ask Karrie’s dad he might agree with this quote from Terrence Mann and he might share with you the story of Ken and Karrie’s first date to begin his explanation: It was a simple request from him, who also happened to be the Chief of Police in their town, that Ken agree to have Karrie home by 10pm. Everyone knows that regardless of how well the date is going, when the police chief makes a request like that, you should listen and comply. Normally most would, but not Ken on that night. After enjoying a wonderful evening that would be the precursor of many days, nights and experiences together, Ken didn’t manage to get Karrie home until midnight! Fortunately, the police chief was a forgiving man or this would be a short story but if you were able to ask the Chief’s opinion of Ken now that his daughter has spent her entire adult life with him and the both of them in theatre, he might agree that they are “good”. Truthfully, this dynamic couple had demonstrated a propensity for being much more than good as they have consistently and tirelessly promoted and produced excellent community theatre.

15134711_1153816354687695_3554923834441179614_nJourneying through the years together while forging a family and careers has taught Ken and Karrie many things about life and each other. For theatre in Puerto Vallarta, their pertinent lessons are stated without hesitation by Ken when asked what the catalyst for starting The Boutique Theatre was more than 10 years ago. “Karrie loves theatre and I like to build stuff.” he blurts out, over-simplifying what is a gargantuan task to undertake and maintain. A glint in Ken’s eye and a quick glance across the table between him and his love of decades confirms easily that his love is actually Karrie and that building things that bring her joy, meaning the infrastructure of shows and the theatre itself, is what also brings him joy. But the phrase does accurately and with brevity describe the relationship that has energized them and the theatres they have supported and built together. For over 10 years now, The Boutique Theatre has been a Puerto Vallarta favourite and the place where community theatre finds a home and its success is a clear indication of the labour of love undertaken by this couple.

IMG_2998“Theatres are curious places, magician’s trick-boxes where the golden memories of dramatic triumphs linger like nostalgic ghosts, and where the unexplainable, the fantastic, the tragic, the comic and the absurd are routine occurrences on and off the stage. Murders, mayhem, political intrigue, lucrative business, secret assignations, and of course, dinner.”
― E.A. Bucchianeri, Brushstrokes of a Gadfly

 

In its current incarnation, The Boutique is in its fourth venue and finding roots in the fertile ground beneath it that is the popular Nacho Daddy restaurant. Recently renovated to now accommodate 80 plus patrons, it is busy hosting everything from the current show The Best of Broadway or the popular TED Talks or any of the live music nights shared with Nacho Daddy making the space regularly alive with the sound of…. theatre! This is music to Karrie’s ears in particular. Starting at age 7 as a rabbit in the back row of a school production, her passion for theatre has never waned. It has carried her to multiple degrees

including a Masters in Theatre which she returned to university to pursue as an adult student. Ken remembers the days when the Boutique had a single frayed extension cord hanging from the ceiling for anything that might need power; a far cry from the state of the art light and sound system of today. The last three years have been the culmination of a lifetime of shared experience and the results are evident in the warm, welcoming, enabling and supportive theatre environment that is The Boutique Theatre. Artists of all experiences and talents have bloomed under the loving and watchful eyes of Ken and Karrie.

DSC_0510“If you want more people to come to the theatre, don’t put the prices at £50. You have to make theatre inclusive, and at the moment the prices are exclusive. Putting TV stars in plays just to get people in is wrong. You have to have the right people in the right parts. Stunt casting and being gimmicky does the theatre a great disservice. You have to lure people by getting them excited about a theatrical experience.”
― Catherine Tate

Stepping on the stage at The Boutique and seeing Ken and Karrie either working or watching (both always really!) reminds me of my childhood. Coming from a musical family there was always some kind of performance happening, even if it was just sharing the news of the day. What reminds me so much of The Boutique is the obvious appreciation and excitement sparkling back at you from Ken and Karrie’s eyes as you perform; just like parents who watch their kids with glee. They generate excitement about theatre naturally. They spur you on to perform and perform well by their fantastic support and love. The same works for those who attend and back the theatre. Ken and Karrie lavish their love and appreciation on everyone that makes a community theatre work. Naturally springing out of their own love for each other, they pour themselves into every show, every moment and the resultant overflow affects everyone who come in contact positively.

Of course we all come to the theatre with baggage. The baggage of our daily lives, the baggage of our problems, the baggage of our tragedies, the baggage of being tired. It doesn’t matter what age you are. But if our hearts get opened and released — well that is what theatre can do, and does sometimes, and everyone is thankful when that happens.

 – Vanessa Redgrave

Puerto Vallarta is thankful for Ken and Karrie Sebryk as am I because Puerto Vallarta and I have had our hearts opened at The Boutique Theatre, at their theatre, by their love for theatre and each other.

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The Only Constant is Change… and Joe.

Heraclitus of Ephesus said it. “Change is the only constant in life.” or more popularly translated as, “The only constant is change.” It is doubtful anyone would disagree with Heraclitus but Heraclitus never met Joseph (Joe) Murphy.

13731601_10157301601390599_909751305508224672_nGrowing up in the small island province of Prince Edward Island, Canada meant that a certain amount of change was likely inevitable for Joe. As urban sprawl began to swallow up the smaller agricultural towns characteristic of the province, Joe saw change happening regularly in his early years. Fortunately, growing up on the leading edge of these changes, Joe had a childhood where the values of curiosity, participation in community, personal growth and excellence were instilled in him. He recalls watching his mother manage the adjustment from being a ‘big-city, well-educated, independent woman’ to being that woman in a rural setting by accepting every opportunity to participate in the community in ways that were familiar to its residents. Never wavering from who she was  yet always adapting to her surroundings. Joe saw how his mother managed change positively, and it marked him significantly for the journey ahead.

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Joe in his role as Stage Manager for The Best of Broadway

There were the requisite formative things in Joe’s upbringing; swim lessons, chores and play times. For example, Joe would often play “school” with his friends, something that as he looks back on now that showed where his vocational passion would be found. Isn’t it interesting how so many of us, this writer included, express our true selves in play as children and then follow a path that deviates from that persona? Joe had a similar experience as he followed his heart of compassion for the community and people into a degree in social work but did not find his way to his teaching degree and his real passion until financial circumstances warranted a change. Accomplishing the switch to a teaching degree and certification in an act of change management indicative of his life journey, Joe did find that passion in his vocation as an elementary school teacher with “on the edge” students where he could have maximum positive impact on the students’ lives and his own. But it wasn’t until a life-threatening incident that Joe cemented his world-view and realized his nature as a change manager and advocate.

1Those of us who live near ocean waters should know that there is a delicate balance at times between the refreshing, exhilarating feeling of frolicking in the crashing waves and the terrifying feeling of succumbing to their strength and being pulled under.  Joe experienced this in a horrifying fashion. After a successful career as a teacher, Joe had found his standard of believing that no child does not want to learn and penchant to assist with those students who had been labelled as troublesome in one way or another threatened by an increasingly politicized system. Joe refused to participate in a system where politics destroyed the natural curiosity of children and had taken a sabbatical to discover a better venue for his passion to teach. Finding himself teaching abroad in private schools who valued his perspective and ethos, he found himself in Bali enjoying a day in the water there. Without warning a rip current came up and began to drag him both under and out. It was too strong to fight and he floundered as the burgeoning current showed no mercy. Were it not for his love of learning from his childhood and his retention of his swim lessons he would surely have perished. Gathering what wits he could in the moment, he began to swim sideways as nearby fishermen in boats raced to his aid. Seconds from his final breath, Joe managed to hit the sand as helpers reached him. Exhausted and momentarily crippled by the effort, only one clear thought rang out in Joe’s mind, “Nothing matters.” As Joe tells the story I will admit that I was initially taken aback by the thought, but as Joe explains I am reminded that it is one of the most profound and life-giving concepts that one can realize. Solomon himself, known as one of the wisest men in history had the same conclusion in his wisdom literature. “Nothing matters” is not a ‘cop-out’ or a shirking of responsibility but is, in fact, the most responsible statement one can make as they realize that the temporary nature of life demands a response that embraces each moment, each opportunity and fearlessly accepts and seeks change where necessary to live life to the full. As Joe struggled with the current, he also wrestled with life and decided, “I am not going to do what I don’t want to do!” characteristically finding clarity and purpose in chaotic circumstances.

IMG_3380From that point forward Joe has immersed himself in promoting positive life changes to those who seek them. Metamorphosing himself to adapt to the task in the prevailing social climate, Joe has continually found ways to express his heart for human development and personal growth in himself and others. As he expresses his concern over the state of mental health and how isolation is exacerbating the problems of mainstream culture accepting and recognizing those who are different, I am inspired by his unconditional affection for all persons. Our conversation turns toward the heartbreaking ill effects of such isolation in such atrocious incidents as the Orlando shootings and Joe’s radiant smile slips away for a moment as he comments, “We lost him.” meaning that society was not able to engage the shooter and the isolation and mental health issues the young man was experiencing at the time aided and abetted his terrible choice to lash out. Joe has helped countless individuals to come out of such isolation and to find fulfillment in discovering and managing positive changes leaving a legacy of people whose lives are lived much like Joe’s; with a relentless optimism, compassion, joy and courage to continue to change and grow. One might even say that Joe’s epiphany of “Nothing matters” has lead many to leading lives that truly matter on a daily basis.

15400327_10207710068341661_7919879971712116031_nAs I listen to Joe share the story of his current relationship and how communication, shared values and respect have made it wonderful, I cannot help but think that if Heraclitus had met him, would have liked Joe. As Joe explains that to better understand his partner he attended Al-Anon meetings and continues on to share a story of teaching at an AA convention about successful relationships and effective communication in them, I hear Heraclitus’ words echo in my mind, “No man steps in the same river twice. For it is not the same river and he is not the same man.” Joe has stepped in the river many times; sometimes in raging currents and other times in the calm and gurgle of a peaceful crossing. Each time he has approached with an open heart and one constant, unrelenting motivation; to change as needed without fear and for the better of himself and the greater good. Change, constant as ever and Joe, ever constant in change.

Thank you Joe, for our lesson together.

 

P.S. Among his many talents Joe is also an actor and avid supporter of community theatre. The cast and crew of The Best of Broadway now playing at The Boutique Dinner Theatre in Puerto Vallarta has benefited greatly from his expert stage management and more so from his exuberant support and positive energy. Tickets are still available. Come on out!

 

A Mission for Life – Ralph Hyman

There needs to be an update to the definition of “Missionary” in my opinion. This is something that I have pondered over the years but never shared for the simple reason that I felt it was derived from subjective perceptions of my own. After meeting Ralph Hyman at an audition for a “Best of Broadway” musical he is directing, becoming part of the show and then spending time to interview him, I now have the evidence necessary to propagate my theory.

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Ralph giving me a lesson in posture in a makeshift rehearsal space.

Ralph flummoxes me and the standard definitions available to describe an individual. The broad positive strokes of acclamation are certainly warranted, but they belie the significant and constant nature of his choice to define himself in the face of opposition with a heart to educate and foster compassionate understanding. Finding in his journey key moments of realization of self and recognizing the necessity of a genuine and public life for the betterment of the community, Ralph has carved a trail for others to travel. Following his lead you may discover yourself and your place in humanity to boldly follow the path to an enlightened life where existence and co-existence are a daily positive experience. Sounds to me like something a missionary would do.

 

Growing up first in rural Iowa and then moving as a child to southern California due to his father’s medical condition, Ralph’s childhood held all the standard obstacles of being Jewish in both settings. While the sad realities of antisemitism are brutal on their own, Ralph found that as he grew into a young man his sense of belonging in the community was also challenged. It wasn’t until graduating high school and gravitating toward New York’s Greenwich Village in 1969 where he found congruence with the person he knew himself to be.

Being gay in the 1970’s carried with it some unique challenges. Rejecting the role models of their parents who refused to share on an emotional level and without positive role models established within their own community, gay men simply expressed themselves sexually. Ralph, as a part of the gay community at New York University remembers the initial clandestine meet ups in the basement of his dorm late at night until the pivotal

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The Stonewall Inn

Stonewall Riots brought many the opportunity to live openly. Ralph has always led others by example in the communities he has lived in through living openly gay. In New York, where there was a community of support as mentioned but also in Alabama and Arkansas where the threat of violence and even death lurked just around the corner. Ralph refused to compromise his lifestyle and in so doing, he might add unwittingly, has inspired others to a truthful self awareness. Whatever the present climate and challenges towards him, Ralph lived genuinely in every circumstance.

 

Finishing pre-med and choosing instead to pursue a Psychology doctorate was the impetus for the move from the familiarity of the Village to the campus of Auburn University in Alabama. It was a step backward in time for Ralph as he recalls again being forced into the post-midnight dark to have space and opportunity to mix in the gay community there. But again, Ralph’s choice was to live openly, to stand out and to challenge daily the prejudices he found there. Theatre had been a part of Ralph’s

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A young Ralph and friends in a high school production.

life from high school days and this had continued to be the case in New York. As an adjunct to his studies at Auburn he also participated in theatre. He made overcoming prejudices against the gay community part of his daily life and his thesis as he called out those who could not look beyond his sexuality to see him simply as a person . This proved to be great training as it was his next move that would combine his principles with his talents to be a voice in a very dark place.

 

Little Rock, Arkansas is a liberal bastion in an otherwise predominately right-wing conservative state.  That said, it is placed literally in the middle of what is still dangerous country for anyone who does not bow to a southern baptist perspective and as if evidence were necessary, as recently as last week at the supreme court level decided to reverse LGBTQ rights previously recognized in another liberal enclave, Fayettville. That Ralph’s internship would be located in such a place seems almost cruel. But Ralph, who had discovered that being true to one’s self provided a contentment and joy that allowed him to endure great trial was undaunted. He set to work as a psychologist but also as a stalwart defender of gay rights and compassionate advocate for gay health and welfare. He founded an AIDS foundation, actively promoted AIDS awareness, travelled to New York regularly to obtain supplies from gay education centres to distribute in Arkansas, he founded a hospice for AIDS victims and adding his love of theatre founded a community theatre that focused on social issues like homophobia. Ralph realized and acted on his knowledge that he had a role to play in the emerging and developing gay community and that literally, there was a role for theatre to reach people and bring them to a moment to think and feel and accept new paradigms. Setting a frenetic pace with his practice, theatre and the practice of education and empathy he set the bar for others to match. This is courage and compassion that cuts a path through prejudice and invites like-minded people to follow. Truly  the result of years of living a genuine life with an open heart, even in the midst of oppression.

It could be said that Ralph has done enough. His activities have touched many with love and compassion. He deserves to rest and enjoy life with his partner of over 30 years in the

lovely Bay of Banderas area and the Romantic Zone of Puerto Vallarta. But Ralph’s love of life and people does not allow his purported status as retired to give credence to inactivity. Ralph still directs plays that educate and inspire and bring both his participant and audience to moments of deep thought and emotion. When I asked him to define for me his motivation for how he has lived and continues to live his life he instead shares an anecdote. He tells me that as he was advocating for gay men’s health and travelling to New York for supplies, he met two other men who were doing the very same thing in other areas of the United States. None of them knew each other or of their activities, yet all three were actively engaged in a vital mission for the time in areas that could easily be defined as hostile to themselves. Ralph says that he feels there must be something at work, some force; be it simply love, a universe seeking balance or perhaps a benevolent Overseer that made the way for he and these men to bring aid. He can’t understand it completely but he quips that it makes him sound like a missionary. I concur and so submit the following:

mis·sion·ar·y

ˈmiSHəˌnerē/
noun: missionary; plural noun: missionaries
  1.  One who acts selflessly for the benefit of others out of a motivation altruistic and genuine in nature.
    Example: Ralph Hyman
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If you are in the Puerto Vallarta area and would like to see one of Ralph’s shows you are in luck. The Boutique Theatre presents, “The Best of Broadway” the first three weekends in March and it promises to be a night of inspiration and laughter. Come on out! Here’s some pictures of the fun we are having at rehearsals and some key words from the cast and crew:

 

  • Photo of Stonewall Inn by By Diana Davies, copyright owned by New York Public Library

 

Live, Love, Chill (and Grill)

img_3029“I don’t like rain days.” Alfonso Estrada confesses as we take a seat under the palapa by the bar at the beautifully accoutred Litibu Grill, his latest restaurant offering. “It must be hard on business.” I quip noting the staff working hard to wipe and mop the open air section of the seating area as the misty rain continues. “I just don’t like them at all.” replies Alfonso and this makes sense as one begins to talk to and get to know this man of pure and simple warmth and light much like the sun he so loves.

As a young man in the 80’s Alfonso began his career in the clubs as a DJ. Far from the celebrity status now afforded DJs aka ‘electronic artists’, the DJs of the 80’s were largely unseen and unsung as they entertained the crowds filling the dance floor. In a pivotal moment Alfonso was asked by the club owner where he worked, a very important question, “Do you want to be a DJ the rest of your life?” Glancing around at some of the older DJs Alfonso didn’t take long to reply, “No.” The owner and soon to be mentor continued, “What do you like about being a DJ?” Again, Alfonso didn’t take long to reply, “I like to entertain the people, to be a host.” The owner then issued a challenge that Alfonso has answered and img_3034well – “If you want to learn the business I will show you from the ground up but I will tell you only one thing; think and do everything as if you were the owner.” From that moment forward Alfonso did just that and still does today. Starting in the back washing dishes and working his way to the front and still now as the owner himself, Alfonso has taken what he loved to do as a DJ, entertain and host, and turned it into a successful career.

The road to the present and ownership of two flagship restaurants at opposite ends of the Puerto Vallarta region has been marked by challenges and choices. Alfonso did not sail through the industry to his current estate. There was even a time where he took a break from the hospitality industry and worked in a family construction business, but the desire to entertain and host, to give people a place where they could meet and enjoy themselves in an atmosphere of relaxation and comfort, would not be denied. While remembering the lesson of his mentor with regard to his business, he also applied the concept to himself; recognizing that his understanding was of utmost importance to his being and that congruence in understanding and action in life was ultimately necessary. Alfonso adopted the teachings of Meher Baba as a guide to understanding which led him to make another img_3042pivotal change in his career. After spending the time necessary to work his way to literally the front door and management of a popular club, the dissonance of the club culture struck him like a blow to the head. How could he regularly choose and reject those who would be allowed in, those who would be allowed to enjoy his house as he hoped to make each one feel, and still maintain a personal standard wherein one of the principle tenets would be, “…to try to make others happy with brotherly or sisterly feeling for each one;“. Alfonso found it irreconcilable and so put behind him the night club or restaurant / night club concepts to pursue a restaurant experience where everyone would clearly get a sense of his personal pursuit to make them feel at home. As he did in this choice, Alfonso has met each challenge with a clear vision of his goals and has learned from each choice something that has carried him to today.

 

img_3023Today, we sit with Alfonso comfortably and talk as old friends while he and his staff ensure the guests who wisely braved the showers to attend know they are appreciated. As we talk patrons arrive and are greeted warmly and it is easy to feel at home without even the need to close one’s eyes as the very architecture around us says, “you are at home.” The new Litibu Grill the north end version of the now famous Ocean Grill created at the behest of appreciative and persistent customers of Ocean Grill in Punta De Mita is put together with the same “Mexican Feng Shui” that has made its sister grill such a delight to its clients for so long. Alfonso confesses he has always been interested in design, even pursuing Architecture for a time in school like his father. The family talent is evident and Alfonso’s design penchant spills over into every area of the restaurant. Even the “reservations only” policy which bristles some who occasionally appear unannounced is designed to promote and preserve the desired experience. Alfonso explains that he wants to offer a hearty and quality meal that is created from ample ingredients purchased and prepared that day and not something frozen and molecular that you have difficulty identifying. We all chuckle at the comment but there is no questioning the serious nature of Alfonso’s intent and design. He continues that he wants to have an idea who is arriving so that he and his staff are prepared in every way. It is as though he  makes each patron feel as though they have been before and will return again, like to an old friend’s home, even at their first moments.

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His journey has brought him to the place where his corporate mantra “think and do everything as if you are the owner.” has intersected with his personal mantra of leading a sincere life at peace with all and the resultant ethos pervades everything.

img_3025Our chat over as we watch a family enjoys the beach, a little girl running through the soft sand with the wind in her hair, carefree. It is a contagious feeling that reaches us easily because where we sit has been crafted to do so. Our departure is met with embraces and thanks and as we travel down the rural road we know that we will return, to feed our stomachs and souls at our host Alfonso’s casa, our casa. Well done amigo.

 

 

Biblioteca Los Mangos

8image1Nestled amongst the trees in the busy Colonia Los Mangos of Puerto Vallarta, you will find a stately building whose presence brings an immediate sense of peace and tranquility. Its arches invite the visitor inside and the feeling of acceptance and community upon crossing the threshold is not a whim or wishful thinking, it is intentional.

What is your first reaction to the word, “Library”? Is it row upon row of books? Is it the watchful librarians looking over their glasses, finger to lips in the well known “Shhh” position? Is it somewhere you visit anymore or is it something you consider antiquated and pre-information age? Whatever your image of library is, Biblioteca Los Mangos will either enhance it or challenge it to be something vibrant, engaging and inclusive.

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Adrianna (2nd from left) and Paco (2nd from right) with volunteer staff.

Executive Director Adrianna Garcia and Paco Ojeda who teaches at and helps promote the library along with a fantastic group of volunteers are paying forward their own life experiences to bring the library to the community and the community to the library.

Moving to Puerto Vallarta from her hometown of Mexico City she only wished that she could somehow find a place to live and work near the ocean.  Like all of us who relocate, she struggled to find a suitable place that would rent to her given she was also on a job hunt. Finding a place that was perfect for her, Adrianna got a taste of what real community and giving looked like in Puerto Vallarta. The landlord refused to accept her savings for the rent and deposit but said instead, “When you find work, then you will pay rent.” Adrianna was struck by the kindness shown her and resolved that this kind of compassion and generosity would become an integral part of her life. It is no wonder then that as the Executive Director of Los Mangos, she has fostered a community ethos of empowerment and inspiration while maintaining it in an accessible environment. “The stories come here to us, we just need to find a place for them.” she quips happily as she shares the stories of 1image1community members who have found a place and assistance to share their passions and crafts. Adrianna’s personal standards of non-judgment and inclusiveness also pervade the library, now dubbed aptly Cultural Centre (Centro Cultural). “We are working to make everything about coming here easier.” she adds as she explains that many in the past who would come in looking for a library card to access the resources had been asked to return to pick it up and did not because of the delay. To avoid the necessity of returning and to help the individual have an immediate sense of belonging, they are streamlining the process so that a card is issued on the spot. Adrianna hints that there is enough struggle to life and that becoming a part of the Los Mangos community should not be one of them. Her leadership and “pay it forward” attitude are creating a place of strength in the midst of everyday struggles.

To compliment her efforts, Adrianna has amassed a team of volunteers to ensure Los Mangos Cultural Centre has the hands it needs to continue to grow and flourish. Enter Paco Ojeda, accomplished editor, writer, promoter and media creator who has also made a commitment to build the community through cultural education and literacy. He collaborates with Centro Cultural Biblioteca Los Mangos as it is officially called to provide 6image1“innovative communication and promotion solutions”. Utilizing his well honed talents and network he is working hard to get Los Mangos in touch with the right people for the right reasons. Whether communicating through the weekly newsletter, rebuilding and enhancing the website, connecting with donors or promoting events and classes, Paco’s enthusiasm and love for the community of the centre is evident. “What attracted you to this place?” he asks as we talk about the centre. He knows, because it is the same warmth, acceptance and inspiration that caused him to begin teaching, but he persists. Teri and I confess that we normally take notice of libraries because significant people like Teri’s Aunt Shirley (R.I.P.) our good friend Karen Spooner in New York state along with so many other mentors who stressed the importance of education and resourcing education have ingrained their important to us but that this place has something yet more. Paco nods his head in agreement as we explain the welcome and warm embrace of the centre stands out as a beacon in a world so lacking of it. Paco’s smile confirms his agreement as he greets a community member entering the main doors behind us. His enthusiasm and congruent ethos provides the centre with a much appreciated and effective communication strategy to carry it into its next 20 years of service.

Yes, the Centro Cultural Biblioteca Los Mangos has been serving the community for 20 years; a remarkable feat given that it receives no subsides or significant government aid.9image2 All their funding comes from their activities, like the new weekly  Mercado Los Mangos, and their recent Art Show and AuctionDonations large and small along with tiles that can be placed in memoriam and / or to recognize significant supporters carry the centre daily and allow for upgrades and expansions to the facility and its offerings. Adrianna said it well when speaking of the new weekly Market the reason for implementing it and its effect on the centre,

“This ‘buy local’ market is a way to materialize some of the core values we stand for, and which drive all our programs and events: creativity, ongoing training, social responsibility, and a strong sense of community. Plus, Mercado Los Mangos will provide a more stable revenue stream for the library, which relies on private donations and receives minimal government funding”.

Simply stated the Centro Cultural Biblioteca Los Mangos is by, for, to and of you! Whether you have lived in Puerto Vallarta, area regular visitor or a temporary vacationer, a visit to and support of this place will only enhance your life. Programs are in place now, being developed and awaiting leaders and volunteers like you to enjoy. Why not take a moment and stop by today? You are sure to be welcome!

From Canoe to Community – A Love Story

Was it the lighthouse that his ancestor Porfirio Díaz built on the point of Los Corrales that guided him there? Was it the benevolent hand of Tlaloc flighttomanzanillocorrales20who directed the tides of the Pacific ocean, gently pushing the young lovers towards safety in the hidden cove away from the disapproving eye of her father? Was it simply the single-minded and courageous act of a young man in love to find a place where he could be with the love of his life? Whatever the catalysts, it is a quintessential story of love and life and it begins some fifty years ago with the carving of a canoe.

What is a man to do when he finds the love of his life but to make a way to be with her? Agapito Guerra Díaz found such a love in Amelia Joya and at the tender age of 16 he realized that there could be nothing, not even the violent disapproval of her father, to keep them apart. Left with the choice of risking physical harm, even death by Amelia’s father or the death of the fierce love he had in his heart Agapito made the choice to pursue life and love and steal Amelia away. 16559301_10153685907643039_443902326_nHand carving a canoe he slipped Amelia away from her father’s house and together they paddled up the coast until they came to a quiet cove and put in for shelter. It was the first time Agapito had set foot on the quiet beach there and instantly he knew it would be the place where they would live and love each other for the days they had remaining.

Amelia’s father, livid at her elopement sent his brother to seek them out. Amelia’s uncle found their cove of paradise and the two young lovers there. Taken in by the beauty of the cove and perhaps, his heart softened by the obvious love the two teens shared, the uncle asked to stay. Agapito, with wisdom and heart beyond his years then established one of the founding principles of the village of Corrales when he responded to Amelia’s uncle by inviting him to clear the land and share in it.

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Entering the town of Corrales, Jalisco Mexico today you will not find elaborate homes or anything that exists merely for luxury or to impress. It is a working fishing town 16651735_10153685910223039_1712026473_nwhose people work hard each day to provide for their families and the greater community. It is a microcosm of the spirit of community and hard work that built the Mexico of today and a reminder of the principles which will carry her into the future. Agapito stands on the porch of his home in the centre of town and surveys the scene with an approving eye. It is the Quinceañera of his granddaughter today and the town is abuzz with last minute preparations. image2Clad in an uncharacteristic suit, he is approached by townspeople asking questions and looking for direction and approval which he happily gives. This is his village which he founded with his love, Amelia, and he watches over it with a heart wide open and obvious to all who live there. Amelia stands nearby, the matriarch of the community ensuring that everything is in order, knowing that what she teaches the young women of the village by her example, will be the foundations of their lives and the breath of the town for generations to follow. The village is an extended family and Agapito and Amelia lead it with love, grace and humility.

Sitting with Agapito to talk, you are the sole focus of his attention. He examples the now sadly old-world concepts of respect and honour towards me despite being a total stranger. For the least bit of interest I have shown in his village and his people, I am now afforded membership in it and he is now listening intently to me like I have lived my whole life here with him. He is the penultimate patriarch. Responding to my inquiries he speaks of only the positive qualities of the people he loves. Every community has its issues, but you will not hear them spoken of negatively from Agapito. He shares openly and honestly about his hopes and dreams for the future as the generations gather around nearby to celebrate a traditional milestone. His brow furrows with concern only when he speaks of the recent interest of foreign developers in buying out the village to build tourist accommodations.

Despite the lack of formal education, this fisherman grasps the ambiguities of the corporate offers and counsels his people to understand fully what is, and isn’t, being offered to them. He sees the corruption that has led to this outside threat as appointed representatives wheel and deal to try to turn the village into the next new tourist destination and he quietly but fiercely opposes it to preserve something that is good and right and undeniably so. As he looks intently for my reaction I am ashamed as I briefly consider what the outrageous monetary offer might be like to receive and then realize that it is a tiny partial payment on something truly priceless. Seeing the realization in my eyes he asks me if I would take a piece of land and live here if I could and I must answer an emphatic, “Si.” In the few hours I have been in this place I have been inspired by love, reminded of what is real and what is temporary and challenged with choosing the lasting good over the momentary flash of wealth. image3Agapito sits back in his chair, a wry smile on his face as he sees that another member of his community, that I, have seen his heart as he had hoped.

When it comes time to leave we cannot depart without receiving the heartfelt thanks and hugs of appreciation for our visit. It is difficult for me to accept it as I feel indebted to Agapito and Amelia for their welcome and inclusion in their community, in their very family. But this is what is remarkable about much of Mexico today still and what must be preserved as progress marches forward. Carefully and intentionally these principles must remain and it is in these communities, founded on love and raised with grace and humility, where it can be found. Looking up as we go, the lighthouse at the point of the cove shines out into the darkness over the ocean to warn the ships at sea and guide them to safe passage. In the same way the village exists as light and life to a state and country that will either see it or risk peril at its disregard for it. As for me and my house, we will remember it and cherish this remarkable and special place in My Mexican Neighbourhood.

 

** Special thanks to Jennifer London of LONDONOGRAPHY for some of the photos (the good looking ones) and The Pacific Coast of Mexico site for the aerial photography. **

 

 

We Need You!

Hands up if you are like me and you grew up watching Sesame Street or Plaza Sésamo as it was called here in Mexico. Is your hand up? Ok, put it down so the neighbours don’t think you are waving at them (or just go ahead and wave!). The fact is that many of us grew up with the characters on Sesame Street teaching us letters and numbers and all about our neighbourhood. One of my favourite songs that I can still remember today is, “The People in your Neighbourhood.” Do you remember? Let me remind you.. *singing* Oh a fireman is a person in your neighbourhood, in your neighbourhood, in your neighbourhoooood. A fireman is a person in your neighbourhood. They’re a person that you meet each daaaay.”

Remember? Did you sing along? If so we are really stretching the limits of print media today aren’t we? But I digress… What I am getting at is that I loved hearing about people in the neighbourhood on Sesame Street and I still do today.

Since moving to Bucerias and spending time in the Bay of Banderas and surrounding area, Teri and I have met so many interesting people. Some of them I was able to feature as I wrote for local periodicals, but space and other restrictions meant that some great details had to be put aside. Others have yet to be shared as their stories didn’t fit the publication’s theme. This was the catalyst for our creation of “My Mexican Neighbourhood”and its parent company “LURE“. Teri and I want to share this wonderful place and our experiences in it. As I said in our Welcome post, we will be talking about all the amazing people in our neighbourhoods; people in your neighbourhood (*singing* in your neighbourhooood – still have it in your head? jaja) because we are truly all part of one big neighbourhood made up of many smaller boroughs.

There are so many amazing people to meet that we can’t wait to post our first feature next Monday February 6th.

Being a part of the larger neighbourhood, you have a part to play too. Do you know someone interesting? Perhaps a local merchant or artist or maybe an official or businessperson or even someone who is retired and living their golden years in this wonderful place with a fantastic story to tell. Whatever the reason you find them interesting, we would like to know. Please Contact Us  and tell us who they are and how to get in touch with them. It is time to begin a collection of stories about the people that we meet each day so that the wealth of persons we are so fortunate to be a part of can be shared. They can be anywhere really. While I may not be able to write about everyone suggested, it will be a pleasure to get to know more and more of the quality people in our area. Who should we be singing about?sandrina-06

Celebrating each other celebrates the life we have been given. Much more than the things we accumulate the people and experiences that mark our days are what bring value to our lives. The differences that separate us are quashed in the process of learning about one another as we recognize ourselves in their stories and the far greater similarities between us. So raise your voice with me as we discover the fascinating people right here in My Mexican Neighbourhood.

Stay Tuned

Monday February 6th we will be posting our first feature here on My Mexican Neighourhood. Who will it be? Stay tuned to find out. You can click on the links to the right to follow our parent company LURE to hear of updates there, click: Follow Blog Via Email or for WordPress users click at the bottom right to add to your follows.

Help us celebrate our first post Monday February 6th!